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Building muscle and getting stronger is hard, and anyone who tells you differently is probably trying to sell you something! You need to pay your dues in the gym, pay attention to your diet, take the right supplements, and get plenty of rest and sleep too. It’s a full-time project!

Even if you push yourself hard during training, it’s all too easy to undermine your progress by following the wrong sort of bodybuilding program. For example, if you are a beginner, following a program for an experienced lifter means you could end up training too hard, too soon. This could lead to serious injury.

Similarly, if you’ve been training for a few years, your body won’t respond as well to the workouts you used to use when you were starting out. Your workouts need to progress if you want to continue getting bigger and stronger.

So, to get the best results from your gym time, your workout needs to match your “training age.” In this article, we present three bodybuilding programs – one each for beginner, intermediate, and advanced lifters.

Of course, there is no such thing as the perfect workout, so while these programs are undeniably effective, they’re not set in stone. They’re merely examples of the sort of workout you should do.

Beginner Bodybuilding Program

Beginner Bodybuilding Program

Beginners are in an enviable position. Gains come thick and fast, and you’ll probably build muscle even if you make mistakes. Regular training comes as a real shock to the system, and your body responds by increasing muscle size and strength relatively quickly.

Because you are new to training, it would be a mistake to use advanced training methods just yet. Instead, you should focus on the basics and build the foundation that will provide a launchpad for many years of productive training.

Sadly, many beginners are seduced by programs that are really designed for advanced lifters and end up doing too much too soon. Then, when they become advanced themselves, they find they’ve already used all the tricks and tactics designed to overcome training plateaus.

So, beginners should keep things simple and focus on mastering the basics of bodybuilding. There will be plenty of time for more advanced training methods in the coming years.

The Workout

Beginners often do best by following a full-body program that focuses on the basic compound lifts, e.g., squats, deadlifts, and bench presses. These exercises stimulate muscle growth throughout your body and can build impressive levels of strength.

However, you shouldn’t do the exact same workout every time you train, or you’ll soon get bored. So, for your beginner bodybuilding program, you’re going to alternate between two full-body workouts, like this:

  Monday Wednesday Friday
Week 1 Workout A Workout B Workout A
Week 2 Workout B Workout A Workout B
Week 3 Workout A Workout B Workout A, etc.

If you don’t want to train Monday, Wednesday, Friday, pick any three non-consecutive days. Just avoid training two days in a row, or you could find that you can’t recover between workouts. After all, your muscles do most of their growing while you rest.

Workout A

Beginner Bodybuilding Workout A
  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1 Back squat 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
2 Incline DB press 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
3 Pull-up/chin-up 2-4 AMRAP 1-2 minutes
4 Leg curl 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
5 DB shoulder press 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
6 Single-arm DB row 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
7 Triceps pushdown 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
8 Cable crunch 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes

AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible. Just rep out to failure.

Workout B

Beginner Bodybuilding Workout B
  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1 Deadlift   2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
2 Lat pulldown 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
3 Military press 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
4 Leg extension 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
5 Seated row 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
6 Bench press 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
7 Barbell biceps curl 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes
8 Cable wood chop 2-4 8-12 1-2 minutes

Intermediate Bodybuilding Program

Intermediate Bodybuilding Program

After 6-12 months of consistent training, you can start to think of yourself as an intermediate bodybuilder. While full-body workouts can continue to be productive, you’ll probably respond better to an increase in training volume, i.e., doing more sets and exercises per muscle group. You should also have mastered the basic compound lifts and be ready for some additional movements.

The following workout is a basic upper body-lower body split that allows you to train each major muscle group twice a week.

The Workout

Because you’ll be alternating between upper and lower body workout, you can start to train on consecutive days if you wish. However, with just four workouts per week, you’ll still have plenty of time for rest and recovery.

Monday Tuesday Thursday Friday
Upper body A Lower body A Upper body B Lower body B

If you don’t want to train Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, you don’t have to. You could even train on different days week by week. However, try to avoid training three days in a row, as you may find that too tiring and hard to recover from.

Upper Body Workout A

Intermediate Bodybuilding Upper Body Workout A
  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1 Wide grip bench press   4 6-10 2 minutes
2 Incline DB press 3 8-12 90 seconds  
3 Cable crossover 2 12-15 60 seconds  
4 T-bar row 4 6-10 2 minutes
5 Lat pulldown 3 8-12 90 seconds  
6 Straight arm pulldown 2 12-15 60 seconds  
7 Neutral grip DB press   4 8-10 90 seconds  
8 Lateral DB raise 3 12-15 60 seconds  

Lower Body Workout A

Intermediate Bodybuilding Lower Body Workout A
  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1 Squat   4 6-10 2 minutes
2 Romanian deadlift 3 8-12 90 seconds  
3 Lunge   2 12-15 60 seconds  
4 Seated calf raise   3 8-12 90 seconds  
5 Standing calf raise 3 8-12 90 seconds  
6 Hip raise 3 12-15 60 seconds  
7 DB side bend 3 12-15 60 seconds  
8 Weighted crunch machine 3 12-15 60 seconds  

Upper Body Workout B

Intermediate Bodybuilding Upper Body Workout B
  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1 Overhead barbell press    4 6-10 2 minutes
2 Arnold press 3 8-12 90 seconds  
3 Cable lateral raise    3 12-15 60 seconds  
4 Face pull 3 12-15 60 seconds  
5 EZ biceps curl   3 6-10 2 minutes  
6 Alternating DB curl 3 8-12 90 seconds  
7 Close grip bench press    3 6-10 2 minutes   
8 Skull crusher    3 8-12 90 seconds  

Lower Body Workout B

Intermediate Bodybuilding Lower Body Workout B
  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1 Deadlift   4 6-10 2 minutes
2 Leg press   3 8-12 90 seconds  
3 Bulgarian split squat    2 12-15 60 seconds  
4 Standing calf raise 3 8-12 90 seconds  
5 Seated calf raise 3 8-12 90 seconds  
6 Butt-up   3 12-15 60 seconds  
7 Cable side bend 3 12-15 60 seconds  
8 Roll-out   3 12-15 60 seconds  

Advanced Bodybuilding Program

Advanced Bodybuilding Program

After a couple of years of consistent training, you will have graduated to advanced level bodybuilding. Your muscles can tolerate more volume and greater intensity, but you’ll also have noticed that gains come much more slowly than they did when you were a beginner. Because of this, you need to train hard AND intelligently to continue building more muscle mass.

Invariably, this means using a wider range of exercises and utilizing workout intensifying training systems, like drop sets and supersets.

The Workout

With your advanced trainee status secured, you’re now ready to train more frequently and dedicate an entire workout to just 1-2 muscle groups. This will provide you with the time you need to really hammer each muscle.

For this phase of training, you’ll be using a five-day body part split:

Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri
Chest Back Shoulders Legs Arms

You don’t have to train five days in a row if you don’t want to. Feel free to split up your training week with a rest day, e.g., take a break on Thursday, and work out on Saturday instead.

Note there is no abs training in this advanced workout plan. Do your abs training 2-3 times a week after whichever workouts you prefer. Do 3-4 sets of 2-3 different exercises, hitting your abs from a variety of angles.

Chest Workout

Advanced Bodybuilding Chest Workout
  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1a Dumbbell fly   4 12-15 90 seconds
1b Incline bench press 6-10
2 Decline bench press 3 8-12 90 seconds  
3 Pec deck   3 8-12 90 seconds  
4 Push-up 3 AMRAP 60 seconds  

Exercises 1a and 1b are to be done as a superset. Do all the reps for exercise 1a and immediately do exercise 1b. On completion of the second exercise, rest for 90 seconds and then repeat the pairing. Do four supersets in total.

AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible. Just rep out to failure.

Back Workout

Advanced Bodybuilding Back Workout
  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1 Rack pull 4 6-10 2 minutes
2 Weighted pull-up/chin-up   4 6-10 2 minutes
3 Pendlay row 3 8-12 90 seconds  
4 Lat pulldown 3 8-12 90 seconds  
5 Chest supported row 3 12-15 60 seconds

Shoulders Workout

Advanced Bodybuilding Shoulders Workout
  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1 Clean and press 4 6-10 2 minutes
2 Cuban press 3 8-12 90 seconds  
3 Cable lateral raise   3 12-15 60 seconds  
4 Bent-over DB fly 3 12-15 60 seconds  
5 Pike push-up 3 AMRAP 60 seconds  

AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible. Just rep out to failure.

Legs Workout

Advanced Bodybuilding Legs Workout
  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1a Leg extension    4 12-15 90 seconds
1b Front squat
3 Cable pull-through 4 8-12 90 seconds  
4 Leg press   4 6-10 2 minutes
5 Seated calf raise   3 8-12 60 seconds
6 Donkey calf raise 3 AMRAP 60 seconds

Exercises 1a and 1b are to be done as a superset. Do all the reps for exercise 1a and immediately do exercise 1b. On completion of the second exercise, rest for 90 seconds and then repeat the pairing. Do four supersets in total.

AMRAP = As Many Reps as Possible. Just rep out to failure.

Arms Workout

Advanced Bodybuilding Arms Workout
  Exercise Sets Reps Recovery
1 Barbell curl    4 6-10 2 minutes
2 Weighted dips   4 6-10 2 minutes
3 Preacher curl   3 8-12 90 seconds  
4 Overhead triceps extension   3 8-12 90 seconds
5a Concentration curl   2 12-15 60 seconds
5b Triceps kickback

Exercises 5a and 5b are to be done as a superset. Do all the reps for exercise 5a and immediately do exercise 5b. On completion of the second exercise, rest for 90 seconds and then repeat the pairing. Do three supersets in total.

How to Progress

While all of these workouts should produce good results, they’ll gradually lose their effectiveness if you do the same thing over and over again. Use the following strategies to make sure you keep getting stronger and more muscular and avoid training ruts and plateaus.

Increase your weights

Muscles get bigger and stronger when exposed to gradually heavier weights. Do your best to add a little more weight to the bar whenever you feel you are able. Even a couple of extra pounds will help maintain your progress. However, don’t sacrifice good form for more weight; doing an exercise badly could make it less effective, even if you have upped your weights.

Preacher Biceps

Do more reps

You’ll notice that all the workouts above have a rep range attached to them, i.e., 6-10 reps. This means you should do no less than six reps and not more than ten for that particular exercise.

If you don’t want to increase your weights weekly, just do 1-2 more reps until you reach the upper end of the prescribed rep range. Once you are hitting the maximal number of reps, increase your weights and start back at the lower end again, e.g.:

Week 1 – 3 sets of 6 reps @ 40 lbs.

Week 2 – 3 sets of 7 reps @ 40 lbs.

Week 3 – 3 sets of 8 reps @ 40 lbs.

Week 4 – 3 sets of 9 reps @ 40 lbs.

Week 5 – 3 sets of 10 reps @ 40 lbs.

Week 6 – 3 sets of 6 reps @ 45 lbs., etc.

Needless to say, your own rate of progress probably won’t be as neat and linear as this, but it should give you an idea of how you can work through the rep ranges to maintain your progress.

Do more sets

The number of sets prescribed per workout is for illustrative purposes only. The number of sets is actually an important training variable and doing more is an excellent way to progress your workouts. Training volume has been shown to be important for muscle hypertrophy, although it’s not so crucial for building strength (1).

If time and energy allow, consider doing more sets, maybe by increasing the amount month by month, e.g.,

  • Month 1 – 3 sets per exercise
  • Month 2 – 4 sets per exercise
  • Month 3 – 5 sets per exercise

You can’t go on adding more sets indefinitely, as you’ll just run out of time and energy. Still, it’s a useful way to ensure your workouts remain productive before making more significant changes or adopting a new program altogether.

Barbell Curl

Vary the exercises

Another way to maintain your workout progress is to change the exercises in your workouts. Even small changes can produce improvements in strength and muscle size (2).

For example, where we have prescribed barbell bench presses, switching to dumbbell bench presses could be all the change you need to avoid a progress stall.

If you do decide to swap exercises, make sure you switch “like for like.” So, while front squats are an excellent alternative to back squats, leg extensions are not. They’re just too dissimilar. Make sure the movement pattern and muscles used are more or less the same.

Use an intensifying training system

The only training system used in the workouts above is supersets. However, there are plenty more you can use that will make your workouts more challenging and maintain your progress.

Good options include drop sets, trisets, German Volume Training (GVT), forced reps, and rest-pause. Use these methods to make your workouts more demanding and varied.  

Change programs

Even the best program will eventually stop producing results. If your progress is beginning to stall, or you’re getting bored, switch to another workout entirely. However, don’t become a workout butterfly, flitting from one program to the next every other week! It’ll take anywhere between 6-12 weeks for a workout to produce results.

Keep your training productive and fun by writing your own bodybuilding programs, or following one of the hundreds of workouts in our workout library.

Bodybuilding Programs – Wrapping Up

A lot of bodybuilders are constantly on the hunt for the perfect program. This is not unlike searching for the meaning of life or the holy grail – it’s virtually impossible! Everyone who lifts weights is an individual, and what works for one person may not work as well for the next.

Beginners should avoid following workouts designed for more experienced exercisers, while advanced bodybuilders need to switch things up to ensure they keep on progressing despite nearing their genetic potential.

Because of this, while there are lots of great bodybuilding programs to choose from, even the best one won’t be perfect for everyone. They’ll always be someone who is disappointed by their lack of progress, despite sticking religiously to their chosen plan.

The three programs in this article are examples of the sort of training that beginner, intermediate, and advanced bodybuilders should use. Are they perfect? Of course not, because perfection is unobtainable!

Are they good programs – you bet!

So, use these workouts to help you build muscle mass and get stronger. But, remember, what you do outside the gym is as important as what you do in it, so make sure you eat right and get plenty of rest and sleep.

Finally, don’t forget that even a great workout has an expiration date and will gradually lose some of its potency. So, make your training progressive and be ready to replace your workout before you get stuck in a rut.

References:

1 – PubMed: Resistance training volume enhances muscle hypertrophy but not strength in trained men https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30153194/

2 – PubMed: Changes in exercises are more effective than in loading schemes to improve muscle strength https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24832974/

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